Faith is not a system by which we determine something to be, or not be true. The confusion of this idea with its antithesis, I think, is the misunderstanding that the faith critic, the skeptic, and the secular scientist all in common share. Faith is not like reason or common sense or empirical knowledge. Consider the scientific method and its way of determining the truthfulness of a certain hypothesis: it begins having the theory of an answer already in mind: the prediction. It sets up the conditions for experiment, the controls, the variables. The theory is something that we test to prove it true.
It is possible that faith is quite the opposite, that faith is not something that we test, rather something that tests us, not something that we experiment with to prove true, but something that proves itself true to us. We are not in control. Our predictions of its nature are of often wacky and mostly wrong. More humility is needed, I think, for faiths testing of us. For it means more often than not scribbling out what we think we know to be true, and recording some truth that is likely to be erased and written over, again and again as time goes on.
It is possible perhaps, that faith is grace that has undergone pressure and has persevered, that it is reason and common sense and scientific inquiry gone on a wild and quite unbelievable adventure of the kind that attests to the sort of logic that says it’s so crazy it must be true, that faith is something that gets lost and plagued, sunk and shipwrecked, locked in prison and beaten to the edge of death, starved and deprived of sleep, rescued and released, and fed and made full. It is possible that faith is not only not a system for evaluating truth, but something more like the story of belief.
Intellectual faith is not faith, if so, then in the same way that a caterpillar is a butterfly. Belief is not faith. To believe in something is one kind of thing, to have faith in something is entirely another. You do not begin with faith. Faith is a farther-down-the-road kind of thing. Where you begin is belief. Faith is earned by fire. It is the wreckage of belief, the beautiful ruins.
The saints, I don’t think, began with faith in God. I think they believed in God. Their beliefs became faith as the fire got hotter and the flames grew higher. Belief is transformed by trial, by calamity, beatings, mockings. And when the fire had all but dwindled down they reached into the embers and gathered up the charred beliefs into their hands and found them glowing, found them sooty and staining their fingers, found them hot and burning, found them no longer as beliefs, but as beliefs enduring. They found ashes beauty—and called that faith.
I really, really, really do welcome your feedback!